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Sen. Klobuchar Discusses Legislative Efforts To Regulate Facebook


Facebook has been sharing users' personal data with some of the world's largest technology companies. And that is according to a new report in The New York Times. The newspaper obtained documents that show the social media giant allowed Microsoft's Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users' friends without consent. The social network also permitted Amazon to obtain usernames and contact information through their friends.


The data-sharing was meant to benefit all the companies. Facebook got more users and raked in advertising dollars. The Times reports that other companies acquired features to make the products more attractive. The question now is - what is the impact on all of us who use Facebook? Let's bring in Senator Amy Klobuchar.

KELLY: She's a Democrat from Minnesota. She sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, also the Senate Commerce Committee. She has introduced legislation to strengthen protection of people's privacy online, and she is here in our studio.

Senator, welcome.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, thanks, Mary Louise. It's great to be on.

KELLY: It does seem as though every day - or something like that - another shoe drops when we talk about Facebook. What is your top line reaction to this latest investigation by The New York Times?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I'm not completely surprised. But I think the evidence is becoming so overwhelming that we can no longer be paralyzed. It feels like - these companies, they somehow thought for years that they could just be bystanders in what is a never-ending cyberwar. And in fact, they've been used, they've made money off of it big time, and it is time to step in. And at the same time, Congress has been paralyzed. Nothing has been happening. Whether it's because of lobbying, whether it's because of the complexity of this, we just have to put all that aside and move.

KELLY: On the specific revelations that are coming out, the part I found most unsettling is this revelation that Spotify and Netflix, two other big tech companies, could read our private messages on Facebook.

KLOBUCHAR: It is an unbelievable thought. So you are, you know, going back and forth with your mom and - about what movie they liked or what movie they were going to see and then - on Facebook. Never in a million years do people think that is then going to go to Netflix so that can presumably direct things at you, if you have an account with them, or try to lure you into their service by advertising things - or the same with music and Spotify.

KELLY: But to your point that we - you said we should not be surprised - I mean, should we be surprised? Or should we just accept that...

KLOBUCHAR: I'm not surprised...

KELLY: ...If we type anything anywhere online, we don't quite know in 2019, 2018 - in the digital age - where it's going to end up and who might see it?

KLOBUCHAR: I think we have to expect more - more from these companies. And that means, first of all, that they can't be messing around with private data. And to me, they're clearly not going to police themselves. So that's why we have to pass privacy legislation. Think about if we had in place the legislation - bipartisan legislation that I've introduced with Senator Kennedy of Louisiana. First...

KELLY: This is the legislation I referenced that you introduced in April.

KLOBUCHAR: I think it would have fixed a lot of this. First, plain language - you'd have to make a decision if you're going to share your data. You'd have to understand that more. Secondly, you'd have control over your data and that you would be able to opt out of any sharing arrangements. And the third thing is that you would be notified of any privacy breach. That is pretty common-sense legislation.

KELLY: If it's common-sense legislation, why weren't you able to get it out of committee? It never even came up for a vote.

KLOBUCHAR: Right. And I think a lot of that has to do with the lobbying that goes on from the tech industry. And I believe that our colleagues in both the Commerce Committee, Judiciary and the Republican majority is going to have to step up here because...

KELLY: Is it also...

KLOBUCHAR: ...You can no longer just pretend - hey, we don't want to regulate things - when people's privacy is being breached on a daily basis.

KELLY: One question that's come up is whether Facebook violated the 2011 Federal Trade Commission settlement. The settlement...

KLOBUCHAR: The consent decree.

KELLY: Yeah, exactly. Consent degree, it required getting users' explicit consent before their information is shared beyond the privacy settings that Facebook has established. In your view, was that FTC agreement violated?

KLOBUCHAR: That FTC agreement was about not sharing personal data. So I don't quite understand how it couldn't have been violated. That is something that they are debating, I'm sure, at the FTC. But this feels like a different level of wrongdoing because when Mark Zuckerberg appeared before us, the joint Senate and Commerce committees, you know, we never heard anything about this. And when you think about it, a lot of this seemed to have ended right when they were getting caught.

KELLY: To Zuckerberg's role, how should he be held accountable? Should he go?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, one of the bills that's pretty interesting - and I'm not going to the internal decisions in the company - but is Data Care Act, which would put that kind of accountability on the company, creating a fiduciary duty for these companies to protect their information, just like you have for doctors, just like you have for lawyers. And I think we need to start...

KELLY: But in terms of Congress, super-overseeing this company...

KLOBUCHAR: But that would be...

KELLY: ...You're not going to get into what this company should do in terms of who should be leading it.

KLOBUCHAR: I think that that's going to be a decision of the company, of the shareholders. But I do think if you look at it in a bigger, more systemic way with tech, the answer is to create a standard, a fiduciary duty because, again, they have literally been coming into our office and saying - hey, we can take care of ourselves, and it's really complicated. Well, they can't. OK? They have created this monster, basically, that has so many good things that's part of it. There's a friendly part of the monster. But then it has created vulnerabilities for our democracy, vulnerabilities for cyberattacks, vulnerabilities for stealing data and intruding on people's privacy.

KELLY: Change of subject, if I may - are you running for president in 2020?

KLOBUCHAR: I am considering it. And...

KELLY: You're smiling, I should say.

KLOBUCHAR: I'm considering it and talking to...

KELLY: You showed up in Iowa recently.

KLOBUCHAR: There we are. Well, you know, Minnesotans like to go south for the winter.

KELLY: (Laughter).

KLOBUCHAR: And talking with people who I've worked with for many years and with my family, I had the unfortunate experience, when I decided to look at running for Senate, of my husband finding out about it on the radio when I did an interview just like this before I had discussed it with him.

KELLY: Well, feel free to break news...

KLOBUCHAR: There you go.

KELLY: ...And surprise him again.

KLOBUCHAR: No, I don't think so. So anyway - so I'm considering it. I think it's important to have a lot of different voices from different parts of the country.

KELLY: What might tip the balance for you?

KLOBUCHAR: Again, you have to - it is a daunting decision, and you have to decide that you would want to do this, that you have that capacity to win, that you are someone that can beat Donald Trump and that would be a good president. And those are all separate things. And so I think you've got to make that decision with an affirmative yes to all of them.

KELLY: I do notice that some of your fellow senators and potential competitors, should you decide to run for the Democratic nomination, have been polishing the foreign policy pages of their resumes. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren just gave big foreign policy speeches recently. Kamala Harris just showed up in Afghanistan. Any travel plans - dropping by Afghanistan, Iraq over the holidays?

KLOBUCHAR: (Laughter) Well, I've gone to both places in the past and have really worked hard on some of these issues from my position on the Judiciary Committee because we had jurisdiction over some of the terrorism laws. I also am a former prosecutor. And I've also worked on...

KELLY: Although you don't currently have a committee seat on Foreign Affairs or Armed Services...

KLOBUCHAR: No, but I'm on Judiciary...

KELLY: ...Or Intelligence.

KLOBUCHAR: And then Minnesota has a huge refugee population, so I've worked on that issue all over the world as well. So I think any member of this Senate has to be able to show their foreign relations chops at any moment, whether it was the recent debate we had on Yemen or whether it is trade issues or working with our allies. So thinking, it's something that you have to do as part of being a senator.

KELLY: Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota.

Best of luck as you make up your mind. And thanks for stopping by.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

KELLY: And to circle back to the Facebook part of that interview, we did ask them for a statement. And they sent us this - quote, "Facebook's partners don't get to ignore people's privacy settings, and it's wrong to suggest that they do." Facebook also wrote, "we know we've got work to do to regain people's trust. Protecting people's information requires stronger teams, better technology and clearer policies. And that's where we have been focused for most of 2018." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.